“American Hustle” and “Her” Kick Off 2014 Awards Season with Surprises

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Welcome to another film awards season. I originally ran a site called “Awards Addict” which featured content on the road leading up to the Oscars. This year, I’m happy to say that content will be available at The Wise Guise for your reading pleasure. I know. You’re welcome.

As for those of you wondering about my credentials for covering the Oscar race, I’ve been doing so since 2005. I’ve got a pretty consistent record of knowing what the Academy likes and doesn’t like despite some of the more ludicrous choices we’ve seen grace the stage at the actual event. I’ve also personally been to Academy screenings and have an idea of who the typical Academy member is and what they like.

Now that you have an idea of my background, let’s get into this year’s race. For those of you unfamiliar with how the game is played (and the Oscar race is nothing more than a Hollywood game), the whole season begins with a slew of critic groups announcing their picks to garner buzz for contenders.

For the longest time, the general thought was “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” would be the critical darlings attracting the most top honors. But the first two Best Film awards of the season popped that consensus bubble quite rapidly. With the New York Film Critics’ choice of “American Hustle” and the National Board of Review’s stunning support of “Her,” this awards season has already gotten compelling in its infancy.

So what do these two choices ultimately mean?

At this point, it’s difficult to fully tell. The NBR’s top film selection has ended up in the Best Picture race for over a decade now. Despite how strange of a choice “Her” is, there’s no reason to think the trend would break this year. Spike Jonze’s latest is hard to think of as a frontrunner, but the high compliment the NBR gave it makes sure it won’t be ignored as the season moves forward.

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“American Hustle,” on the other hand, has always been a film lingering in the background that I thought could have a strong shot at taking the big prize. The Academy obviously loves David O. Russell. His last two outings, “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” got plenty of nominations and a few wins. Perhaps this year they would be ready to give him the big one.

And what would stop them? “American Hustle” benefits from a cast of Academy favorites, as well.

And look at its primary competition at this point: “Gravity” is great, but we know the Academy typically doesn’t go for sci-fi. It’ll get nominated and most certainly sweep the tech categories, but that’s where the fun could end.

“12 Years a Slave” is a masterpiece in my mind and also in the thoughts of many critics. Still, the more violent scenes will prove to be a real hurdle for it in gaining wide acceptance in the Academy as a whole. I made this call with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and was right. I also made the call with “Django Unchained,” and while the Tarantino-lovers in the Academy ensured the film got a Best Picture nomination, Leonardo DiCaprio was shockingly snubbed for his stupendous work.

And why was that? Because Academy members just don’t like violence, regardless of how “sophisticated” it is in presentation. And in this day and age when most voting members watch the films they nominate on DVD screeners, they have the option to simply pressing “Stop” if they don’t want to see anymore. That’s what they did when Leo cheered on dueling black slaves in “Django.” That’s what they did when the infamous rape scene from “Dragon Tattoo” started. And I’m betting that’s what they’ll do when they start seeing slaves abused in “12 Years.” Don’t get me wrong: there’s no doubt it will find itself in the Best Picture race. The violence will hurt its overall chances and especially those of supporting star Michael Fassbender.

“American Hustle” and “Her” could benefit from the acceptability problems with these other releases. They also could take advantage of the fact some other earlier releases are so star-focused. Sure, “Captain Phillips” and “Nebraska” both received strong acclaim, but wouldn’t it be easier to just nominate their respective major stars Tom Hanks and Bruce Dern instead of occupying precious Best Picture slots with them?

There are also other late-arriving contenders waiting in the wings. “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Saving Mr. Banks” clearly aren’t duds, and their early strong reception shows they could prove to be favorites, as well.

Again, at this early point, it’s just too soon to tell what buzz will last, but the selections of “American Hustle” and “Her” prove this season could be an interesting one. We’ll have to wait for the Screen Actors Guild nominations later in the month to see exactly what Academy members like so far. Until then, we’ll just linger over the continuing string of critics’ awards.

Welcome to the 2013-2014 Oscar race. I hope you’re ready for what will hopefully be a fun ride.

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Posted on by Alex Beene in Awards Addict, Entertainment, Featured, Movie Previews, Movie Reviews, Movies

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